S/V Mountain King sunk in the 1926 Bahamas hurricane

MAILBOAT NAME: S/V Mountain King
PAST NAMES: none so far as is known
DIMENSIONS: not known

YEAR BUILT: before 1926
BUILDER: Rev. James Smith 
EARLY CAREER: so far as is known always served as a mail boat to Cat Island from Nassau
BAHAMAS CAREER: served Cat Island from Nassau up to end July 1926
CAPTAINS: Capt. Elliston Bain & First Mate / relief captain Capt. Napoleon Rolle
OWNER/S: Rev. James Smith of Port Howe, Cat Island
FATE: sunk in in late July 1926 in a hurricane
NOTES: From the extraordinary book “The Great Bahamian Hurricanes of 1926: The Story of Three of the Greatest Hurricanes to Ever Affect the Bahamas,” by Wayne Neely, published in 2009, pages 142-143

“The Rev. James Smith of Port Howe, Cat Island built the vessel The Mountain King which was used as a freight and passenger vessel between Cat Island and New Providence. This vessel was caught by the Nassau Hurricane of 1926 between Bird Cay and Little San Salvador (later Disney’s Half Moon Cay) on the return trip to Cat Island, Captain Elliston Bain wanted to put the vessel into the shallow waters and let the passengers wait out the hurricane on either of the two named cays. The mate, Napoleon Rolle of Devil’s Point, Cat Island who was also a captain, strongly disagreed stating that the vessel would be badly damaged and somehow he managed to convince Captain Bain to continue the journey to Cat Island against his better judgment.

Captain Bain was said to have stated that if they continued, by the next day, “They would all surely die!” Some 25 miles from Orange Creek and Arthur’s Town, Cat Island, Th e Mountain King sunk in the rough seas and raging winds of the hurricane and all 26 souls (14 women, 7 men and 5 children) on board with one exception was lost. The mate Napoleon Rolle was as fate would have it was the sole survivor of this boat when he swam to Bird Cay during the storm. There he would be taken care of by the 5 shipwrecked crew of another Cat Island vessel Hero.

While searching the island in the aftermath of the storm, they came across a rickety 20 ft. boat and used it to make their way back to Cat Island, landing at Orange Creek with the ‘miracle boy’ onboard in early August. Napoleon was said to for the rest of his life regretted not listening to Captain Bain’s advice. Many persons in this community became overnight paupers, widows and orphans due to this incident. The bodies of Sally Davis and Claudius Simmons were two of the few bodies ever found from The Mountain King and they were eventually buried in a special burial service.”

In another chapter about the Mountain King Rev. Henry Pratt embellishes on Napoleon Rolle’s experience:

“One of the lucky ones was Napoleon Rolle from the settlement of Devil’s Point who was on the mail boat Th e Mountain King travelling from Nassau to Cat Island. I recalled that Th e Mountain King belonged to a man by the name of James E. Smith, who like many other boats were hired to take freight and passengers to and from Cat Island to Nassau. Th e journey often took as much as eight days to complete by boat. When The Mountain King began its journey; none of them knew a storm was travelling until they encountered the storm near Cat Island, because Th e Mountain King did not have a barometer on board which would have been a valuable instrument to give them some kind of fore-warning of the approaching storm. Th e reason why The Mountain King went down in the storm was because two stubborn boat captains could not agree to take the boat into a safe harbour and wait out the storm on dry land. Many persons died on this boat and the majority of the bodies were never found because the boat sunk in the middle of the ocean.

Napoleon Rolle who I recalled performing the burial rites at his funeral many years ago, was the sole survivor on this boat. Napoleon like many of the passengers on this boat jumped off the boat with the intentions of swimming into the land. When Napoleon started swimming in the rough seas, he briefly looked back at the boat and saw it rocking violently from side to side with quite a few passengers still on board and when he looked back a second time he saw that the boat had completely disappeared with no sign of the remaining passengers. When he got near to the land on a cay called Bird Cay, the storm surge pushed him well over fifty feet into the bushes on dry land and for a brief while he kept on swimming not realizing that he was now safe on dry land. He remained on that cay for quite sometime without food or water. He was finally rescued when he placed the shirt of his back on a tall stick and beckoned the passing ship Hero to his rescue and it would only be much later that he would learn the fate of the other passengers.”

Pages 181 and 182, Wayne Neely’s book “The Great Bahamian Hurricanes of 1926,” 2009